Lorena City Manager and former state Rep. Billy Clemons admits it’s a little terrifying to know he is retiring at the end of the month.
But that hasn’t stopped him from packing.
Clemons, who spent the past six years with the city, said he is looking forward to spending more time with his grandchildren and visiting his property in Nacogdoches.
Clemons, though, will retire in Lorena.
“This is home now,” he said.
Clemons, 66, has spent the past few weeks introducing his successor, Joseph Pace, to city employees and residents and teaching him the ins and outs of the organization.
Pace, 44, who is in the process of moving from Temple to Lorena, recently served as the Copperas Cove parks and recreation director.
“He ended up the lucky winner,” Clemons said about the hire. “It’s like winning the Powerball.”
Walking through downtown, Clemons pointed to the police department, recalling how constructing that building was his first project.
Pace, whose official first day isn’t until the first week in February, said he expected more sub-par city buildings before coming to Lorena, as many small towns haven’t kept up their facilities. That hasn’t been the case in Lorena, though, he said.
Clemons said that while the city has accomplished a lot over the years, the next big changes will likely be connected to the newly created Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, which is a way to finance public improvements by encouraging development and improving the tax base over time.
Pace already has begun sitting in on conference calls regarding the TIRZ and will take over negotiating for the city with developers interested in TIRZ properties on the east and west sides of Interstate 35.
Pace said while he hasn’t worked personally with a TIRZ before, he feels confident he can step in and help keep the momentum rolling on this project.
Growth, after all, he said, will likely be the city’s greatest challenge during the next decade. There will be some who dislike the projected city growth as it arrives in the next 10 years, and the city will face growing pains, he said.
Adding an expected 5,000 people during the next 10 years to a city with less than 2,000 residents requires intent planning, he said. Pace said he dealt with a burst in population in Copperas Cove and has experience with some of the situations that will arise.
Pace said one of the best things Clemons has told him since they began working together is that Lorena residents want growth, but only in the right way.
Pace said he has worked in city government for about eight years, from serving as a city court administrator and junior city planner to director of parks and recreation.
Pace said he had hesitations about a small city, but those were quickly dissolved after meeting with the city council and staff. He said he expected — just based on the city’s size — the city to be cliquish, but he’s been pleasantly surprised by the progressive minds he has encountered.
For Clemons, his retirement will bring an end to more than 14 years of service for Texas residents. Before working in Lorena, he served as city manager in the cities of Alto and Caldwell. But long before leading small-town administrations, Clemons served 14 years as a state representative.
“Billy came to the city at a very pivotal time. We were dealing with a wastewater facility which was at capacity and was going to consume a lot of the city’s resources to expand and maintain,” Mayor Chuck Roper said. “Billy coordinated our interests in (the Waco Metropolitan Area Regional Sewerage System), which gives Lorena the opportunity to expand for future growth.”
Clemons said he also has overseen the city’s interest in interstate expansion; worked on many of the state’s Texas Municipal League committees; and helped in buying a bank building and converting it to a new city hall, building an emergency water connection with Hewitt and cooperating with the Lorena Economic Development Committee to make improvements to the city’s McBrayer Park.
“It’s going to be hard for me to cut it loose,” Clemons said.
Pace joked that is a good thing, because it means he can take Clemons for lunch if he ever needs advice.
Clemons said he has a lot of confidence in Pace’s ability to take over the position after working with him these past few weeks.
“In spite of what all of us egotistical males think, we can be replaced,” Clemons said with a laugh.
And who knows, Clemons said — maybe he’ll run for city council.
The city will host a reception for Pace and Clemons before the council meeting from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.